Monday Medical: Healthy meals from pantry staples |

Monday Medical: Healthy meals from pantry staples

Susan Cunningham
For SteamboatPilot & Today

Do you have a stocked pantry and freezer, but find yourself still reaching for the chips? You’re not alone.

“You’re working from home, feeling stressed, watching too much news — so you go to the pantry and eat some cheese and crackers or chips,” said Laura Stout, registered dietitian nutritionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “But that’s what we want to try to avoid now that we’re settling into this new routine. We want to get back to our healthy lifestyle.”

Below, Stout shares tips for stocking your pantry and making healthy meals out of the staples.

Pantry and freezer

Try to keep basics on hand, such as oil, vinegar, flour, rice, beans, pasta, nut butters, spices, canned tomatoes, onions and garlic in the pantry. For the freezer, think frozen vegetables, fruit, meats or plant-based meat substitutes, and fish.

But don’t buy foods you know you won’t eat.

“It’s a really good time to do a pantry overhaul,” Stout said. “Throw out anything that’s old, so you’re not just shoving things to the back. And get the foods you’ll really eat — restock with your favorites.”

Use up ingredients that you’ve had for a while. “Think of them as toppings for salads or cooked grains and fillings for tortillas,” Stout said. “And so much can be thrown into soups.”


Phytonutrient rich rice and bean bowl

Substitute pantry ingredients you have on hand for this nutrition powerhouse.

  • 1 c. cooked rice
  • 1 15 oz. can lentils or other beans, drained
  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 c. fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped
  • 1 c. celery, minced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 red or sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 c. raisins, cranberries or currants
  • 3/4 c. sunflower or pumpkin seeds, toasted
  • Simple vinaigrette (see below)

Mix all ingredients and toss with vinaigrette. Serve immediately or let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes to let flavors mingle.


Whisk together:

  • 1/3 c. apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1/3 c. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. maple syrup or liquid sweetener
  • 1 tsp. mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

Fruits and vegetables

“Buying fresh is perfectly fine,” Stout said. “Just wash it before you use it.”

Stock up on produce that keeps, such as onions, potatoes, carrots, apples and beets to avoid frequent trips to the store.

“I’ve noticed myself being drawn to more citrus — oranges, tangerines and lemons,” Stout said. “They’re filled with vitamin C and so are good for the immune system. And lemon, olive oil and mustard makes a really good salad dressing you can keep all week.”

Freeze food

If you make a pot of spaghetti sauce, but can’t eat it quickly enough, freeze leftovers — your future self will thank you.

Do the same with leftover produce that may go bad before you can get to it. “Parboil and freeze any vegetables you won’t be able to use,” Stout said.

Healthy comfort food

Roast carrots, onions and sweet potatoes — with or without a chicken — then add them to rice for a healthy, hearty rice bowl. Make tacos or nachos with ground beef, cheese and vegetables. Mix canned beans with vegetables such as onion, bell pepper and cilantro, with a lemon-olive oil dressing.

“Keep nutrition in mind during this time,” Stout said. “We want to try to get all the different phytonutrients from vegetables and fruits, fresh and frozen.”

Oatmeal with berries and nuts is an easy, healthy breakfast. And don’t forgo macaroni and cheese — just add in some broccoli or spinach.

“Then you have a casserole, and that stick-to-the-ribs feeling, without having to work too hard,” Stout said.

Go with the flow

Don’t be afraid to work with what you’ve got.

“This is not the time to get rigid,” Stout said. “Use up what you have and don’t worry — it’s going to taste just fine.”

And remember to treat yourself every now and then.

“Don’t sacrifice good nutrition, but make sure you take care of yourself during this stressful time,” Stout said. “If it means you have ice cream or chocolate at the end of meal, go for it.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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